Baltimore native Mo’Nique has surely risen above the stars with her stand-up comedy, multiple television shows, and even movies. Although the accolades are great, it’s the person behind it all that a star truly makes. Despite what problems may have been placed upon her for speaking her truth, her legacy and impact is undeniable.
Take me back to winning your Oscar. What was going through your head?
You know, I get asked that question often about that award, and what was happening that night. It was a regular night that I was going to accept an award that I was grateful for. But that wasn’t the night that I was really excited about. The night that I was really excited about was the Image Award because that was the award that was from my community. That was the award that says we think you’re the best at what you do, at this moment, and we want to celebrate you.
So that was the night that I was really excited about. To be among my folks, we celebrating each other together, and for them to call my name was…amazing. I was so grateful and humbled by it. But the Oscar wasn’t the night that put those butterflies in my stomach, and said ‘Oh God, this is the night.’ So I was grateful for it, but it was the Image Award that gave me that feeling.
How is it for you to see your growth? Going from a young Baltimore girl into this amazing comedic actress?
I’m grateful to Baltimore because it molded me. It allowed me to become who I am. When you come from a place that is full of heart, and love, and directness, and ain’t afraid to take an ass whooping; when you come from that place, it molds you into who you are. So to say ‘how does it feel coming from Baltimore?’ Baltimore is still home in my heart. And I’m still very grateful for those people that came out and supported me when the world didn’t know who Mo’Nique was.
They just knew who I was in Baltimore. But they treated me like the world knew who I was. So I’m grateful for that, and, when people say to me: ‘You know Mo’Nique, why are you so direct and say what you feel?’ ‘Cause that’s where I come from. I don’t know a whole lot of shy Baltimoreans.
So, after coming from that moment. Playing such a role on Precious… It was a moment that we saw a different side to you. After you got all the accolades and everything, the public was wondering how come we haven’t seen you as much as we thought we would. What was that moment for you when you realized you were being Black balled?
Well, when you win that award, which is supposed to be the most prestigious award that you can win in American society for acting; the money is supposed to come along with that because that award says that you are the best. However, that’s not what that award means for people of color, and I’ll speak directly for me. That’s not what it meant for me. What it meant for me was, you just won that award, but we’re still gonna treat you like you just got off they greyhound bus, and you just got to Hollywood, and you should be happy that we’re even calling you. So that’s why I don’t go gung-ho over the Oscar award, because it hasn’t meant that for me. And if you know your homework and your research, it hasn’t meant that for any other Black woman thats won that award.
Do you ever feel like you’re the scapegoat for a lot of the issues you speak on?
Well, to say the scapegoat… I don’t think that’s the word I would use. I think that to speak on what’s happening; we all know that it’s not unique. And we all know that the Black woman has been on the bottom of the totem pole for as far back as we could remember. So I’m not saying anything that’s unique. I think what becomes unique is that I’m unwavering about it. I’m not backing down, I’m not being quiet, I’m not going away, and I’m unapologetic about standing up for inequality. So, if the word scapegoat is what you want to use, I’ll take that charge, but it won’t make me be quiet.
In regards to Lee Daniels, Tyler and Oprah: How did it feel for you to see your community publicly blame you, but in the same token, blame Daniels when Dame Dash called him out?
Well, again my baby, when we know our history; it didn’t hurt my feelings because I understand how we’ve been conditioned. And how we’ve been trained to be fearful. And when Paul Robeson spoke out, I didn’t hear about the Black people that surrounded him and said we’re gonna stand with you. When Eartha Kitt spoke out, I didn’t hear about the Black people that said they’re gonna stand with you. I’m not saying they didn’t because I know that there were some that did, but it wasn’t a pouring of us that said we’re gonna stand behind you. So when you know our history, the list goes on. Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisholm, Hattie McDaniel, the list goes on.
We’ve not been conditioned yet to stand with each other. It’s easy to turn our back and say ‘it’s not affecting me.’ Even with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a lot if us did not stand with him, and we thought he was making too much noise because we thought we should just be happy with what we have. So when you know the history of us, I can’t take it personal because we’ve been trained that way. But I love on them even harder because it makes me have empathy to say, the moment you discover who you really are, you’ll stop being in begging mode.
After the initial blackball moment, going into 2016 with Almost Christmas, did you feel that things were starting to look up for you? Like it’s going towards a better direction?
We see, I’m a stand up comedian, and I’ve always been that. I’ve never claimed to be an actress. So because people didn’t see me in the movies and on television, people thought I was doing nothing. I’ve always done standup. I’ve never stopped doing standup. That’s my first baby, that’s my first love. So because you didn’t see me, doesn’t mean I didn’t have a livelihood.
So, Almost Christmas was one of those things where I was only supposed to do a cameo appearance. I wasn’t supposed to be throughout that movie. I was supposed to be in that movie for a cameo, thats what we negotiated with Will Packer. But when it came down to it, that’s not what it was. But it wasn’t that I saw things looking up, it was something that I wanted to do. And for what I signed up for, it made sense. Now, what I signed up for and what actually happened, is two different things.
How would you describe that? What you signed up for vs. what happened? Did he treat you differently on set?
Will Packer did not keep his word. And he was not a man of integrity. That’s what the difference was. When you tell me I’m going to do a cameo, I’m expecting to do a cameo. When you write me in throughout this movie; well the money didn’t change. I signed up for the money for a cameo, not to be all throughout that film. And what happened is people think you’re not going to say anything. ‘Oh well, she’s already in trouble. She’s not going to say nothing.’ No! Yes the hell I am. That’s not what I signed up for. But because I loved David Talbert, I love what that brother does, I said ‘Brother, you got me this time…’ Not to David Talbert, but to Will Packer. ‘You got me this time, but never again. And I’m going to tell it.
I wouldn’t expect them to try you like that.
See, there are a lot of Wizards of Oz in this business. I just so happened to have the chance to go behind the curtain to see them. And when I see them, it’s like, now I know that you’re not playing fairly. And I know that you’re not about equality, and you look just like me. And if I do not speak out, and say anything; guess what? The next one is coming, and they’re going to have to have to deal with the same things as the last one. So at what point do we say, it’s time for the story to change, not just the faces.
After the boycott, news came out that Tiffany Haddish & Wanda Sykes had scored a better deal from Netflix. Do you feel that your call to boycott helped shed light on women in entertainment?
Of course, of course. See, we have to keep inching our way. When I get a phone call from, my tech guy, who happens to be a white guy, he says to me ‘I got a call from my father, and he said I need you to cancel Netflix.’ This is a man in his 70’s that lives in Canada. He says ‘because if they don’t stand for equality, and they treat Mo’Nique that way, I don’t want no parts of that.’ So, it spread everywhere. That’s why I couldn’t get angry for the ones who didn’t understand it. Cause theres a whole lot that do. They’re Black, white, Asian, Latin; they’re all of us. I don’t care what color you are. What gender you are. Inequality is inequality, and when you have a pure heart, you’re gonna speak out about it.
For me, I didn’t know what was going on, but from what you said, how you said it, and how you looked; I knew there was more to the story than what you could originally speak on.
There’s always more to the story. But often times, we don’t wanna take the time out to find out the whole story. We just wanna go on a blurb and say, ‘well let’s create a whole opinion.’ Well I’ve been guilty of that myself before. Again, that’s why it allowed me to be patient and understanding for the ones that do do it. I know you don’t have all the information, and you’re only going on what you think you know. Well I can’t fault you for that, but what I will say is, take the time to educate yourself about what you’re speaking about, so you can speak intelligently, and not speak with ignorance.
After the announcement you went on a few shows. One in particular being The Breakfast Club. How did you feel after it aired? Becoming a viral meme/moment?
Well, whenever the truth is told, I’m glad it was told. I was disheartened with Lenard. I was disheartened because he has a mother and a grandmother that he says have dealt with inequality. And I asked him ‘would you consider them donkeys?’ He said ‘well no.’ Well then why would you consider me one? He couldn’t answer that question. It was disheartening because there are millions of people listening to that, our younger brothers and sisters. And for a younger sister listening, she knew she had nothing coming based off of what Lenard was saying.
So, I’m glad I went on The Breakfast Club because there were also some young sisters saying ‘thank you Mo’Nique for standing.’ There were some brothers saying ‘thank you Mo’Nique for standing.’ So, it doesn’t have to always be acknowledged right away. Sometimes people don’t get it right away, that’s why we must keep talking.
You also appeared on The View, and recently made a few comments in regards to Whoopi Goldberg. Has she, or anyone on her team reached out to you?
No baby, not yet.
(The quote in question is from a recent interview with Vulture).
“When you have a woman saying, “I could have schooled you,” someone would say, “What was the schooling going to be?” When I look at this woman you say is our icon and our legend — she is. But, how many things has Whoopi Goldberg executive produced? Whoopi Goldberg has always been the help, and I say that humbly. So what is it that you’re going to school me on? I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years.”Via. Vulture
Now, because reading something and hearing something are two different things, Is there anything you want to clarify? Or, you meant what you said?
I meant exactly what I said, and I’m unapologetic about it. However, what I will say is, when I said Whoopi Goldberg has always been the help, I know what it is to be the help myself. And for a long time in my career, I too was just the help. So now when I watch my imagery on TV and in movies, someone else’s family will benefit off of my image, because I wasn’t only hired to be the help.
And the very man Whoopi Goldberg told me to get rid of, which is my husband who is also my manager, was the very man that said ‘Mo’Nique, you’ve got to stop just being the help. Because years from now, someone else will benefit from your image, and your family will get no benefits at all.’ So we must start executive producing, we must start owning our projects. I did not say that to throw shade, and spill tea; I’m too damn old for that, that’s my sister. However, I had to say the truth, and that is the truth. I don’t regret anything I said.
I want to also say there was a time I was the help too, so I wasn’t saying that to be demeaning. I’m only saying that to be truthful. And for us to change the story, and just stop changing the faces.
In Vulture, you mentioned wanting to help the next young girl on the rise. Coming from Baltimore, have you gotten the chance/opportunity to speak with Jess Hilarious and maybe help her?
I spoke with Jess Hilarious one night. We had a comedy show, we had a beautiful dialogue. I told that baby if you ever need to talk, you ever want to reach out, I’m always right here. I’m always right here cause she’s the next group coming up. I don’t know it all, but what I do know, I’m willing to share.
After the boycott and everything, some people tried to discredit you, which they shouldn’t have. So have you felt like with social media, there’s been a change, or people who try to rewrite your history?
Here’s the beautiful thing, you can’t rewrite my history. It’s already there. You can try. As we’ve seen in history, they’ve tried so hard before to rewrite history, but you find out the truth. So you can’t rewrite it.
Given everything you’ve went through… How is it to now have your own residency. How did this come about?
That residency baby, is absolutely beautiful. The outpouring of love, and support; people saying ‘Mo, I done been with you since Comic View.’ ‘Mo, I remember when I saw you in Baltimore.’ Those people are showing up. It’s absolutely humbling to be in the business for 30 years, and you have people that started with you, and are still with you. That’s appreciated.
The way it came about was with my husband, and a guy named Tommy T, who has a club in Pleasanton, California named Tommy T’s. He kept calling for me to do his club, and we would do the club and have a good time, and he’d call about 3 months later. ‘Mo’Nique, would you come back?’ I’m like no baby, I just did the club. He’s like ‘I know but, if you come, they’re gonna show up.’
I would go, and we would have great time, and he’d called again bout 3 months later. So that place actually became my residency first. And then he said ‘How would y’all like to go to Vegas?’ We said let’s go. And my husband and Tommy T negotiated the deal, our attorney put it together, and now “Mo’Nique Does Vegas” is going on.
What’s the difference between having your own residency vs. going on tour?
Well when you go out on tour, and you go to Kansas City, you know 99.9% of those people are going to be from Kansas City. When you go to Virginia, you know most of them are going to be from Virginia right? Well when you go to Vegas baby, they’re from all over the world. They’re from everywhere. Every walk, every nationality, everything. Everything night those people sit in front of you, they’re from every walk of life.
What has the support been like from the fans and your peers?
It’s been beautiful, and I don’t have fans. Fans are short for fanatics. I have family members. For somebody to say I’ve been rolling with you for 30 years, that’s a family member. It’s been beautiful from my peers.
You know who called me and said ‘go get em baby?’ Her name is Roseanne Barr. That’s why I told the world I’m not throwing my sister under the bus. That woman called me and said go get em baby. So, from my peers, I would like to believe they’re all saying ‘sister go get em.’
Cause we’re only inching the door open even more. To be the first Black woman comedian to have a residency in Las Vegas, I stand on the shoulders of so many Black women who came before me. That’s Moms Mabely, that’s Lucille Bogan, that’s Betsy Smith, that’s Marsha Warfield. All of those Black women kept inching that door open so that I could step out on those stages. When it came to the Black male comics, thats Red Foxx, and entertainers, thats Sammy Davis Jr, and when they had their residency; they could perform for you, but they couldn’t stay at those hotels. So they inched a door open that I could perform and stay in the hotel.
For you personally speaking, touching on Roseanne; How do you feel that you can separate the person or a moment verses what they’ve done, or their career?
Because I know that woman’s heart is full of love, I didn’t have to separate it. I knew she wasn’t coming from an ugly place. We’re comedians. We are the medicine to the universe. And the moment we start getting censored, is the moment we are really truly in trouble.
Do you have any advice maybe for Kevin Hart giving his situation he just went through?
Kevin Hart didn’t do anything wrong. So… he didn’t do anything wrong, especially culturally when you know where we come from. He did nothing wrong, and what I’m glad he didn’t do was say now I have to appease a different group of people. We all had that gay cousin in our family. And we all said ‘here come gay Ricky,’ ‘here come gay Troy,’ didn’t we? So, it’s like now we’re going to apologize for who we are? That man ain’t got nothing but love in his heart, so Kevin Hart didn’t do anything wrong. I get down for the LGBTQ community, everybody knows it, but that baby did nothing wrong.
What was that moment for you growing up where you were like, “This Is It”?
When I saw The Jackson 5 get off of a plane, and the people were running up to them screaming and hollering, crying. I was like, that was it.
Given all the talk about reboots, are you interested in a The Parkers reunion/reboot?
No. We couldn’t do it because Yvette Wilson is not here. Andell was a major part of the show. For me, I appreciate what The Parkers was in that moment in time.
How was your friendship like with Ms. Wilson?
Amazing baby. I remember one time she said to me, and this is why she was so grounded. We were on the set and she said ‘look up’ and ‘what do you see?’ I was like ‘a bunch of wires and cameras.’ She said ‘right, it’s fantasy. It’s not real. Always keep that in mind, and you gotta be able to cut fantasy off.’ Thats the kind of relationship we had. Didn’t hang out often, wasn’t at each other’s houses all the time, but we had a good time when we were together.
Given all that has transpired, do you hold a grudge or resentment towards anybody that has contributed to the blackballing of your career, or any type of downfall that they tried to place upon you?
No, I don’t hold a grudge, I don’t hold resentment. I love our brothers and sisters. Like my husband said, ‘Mama, we’re not trying to call anybody out. We’re trying to call them up.’ And I thanked my husband. Because of his nurturing, his training and teaching; he said ‘this isn’t personal.’ The only way to make this right is if we keep talking about it. We’ve always opened it up to have a public conversation with those people. So no, there’s not one of them I have any resentment for, any animosity, I love them all.
Mo’Nique’s “Mo’Nique Does Vegas” residency is currently taking place at the SLS Hotel in Las Vegas. Purchase your tickets here! Listen to the interview below!